Government says – New Bridge across Demerara in the making
By Leonard Gildarie
Amidst worry over congestion on the Demerara Harbour Bridge, Government has signaled its intentions to invite proposals for a new structure shortly.
Speaking yesterday at press conference on his Ministry’s performance in 2012, Minister of Public Works, Robeson Benn, said that it is the hope that the current bridge will continue operations for the next seven years, at least.
Shortly, the government will be advertising for Requests For Proposals (RFP) for a new “crossing”, he said.
In all likelihood, any structure similar to the current Demerara Harbour Bridge will have to be built right alongside it as studies have indicated this is the best option.
Benn did not immediately rule out the possibilities of the government going the route of a public/public partnership, similar to the Berbice River Bridge where state funds, from a number of agencies, were sunk in that structure.
Government would be in a hurry to have a new bridge across the river because of the increasing challenges facing the current one. Not only has the increase in vehicular traffic been causing headaches for the management, but the number of vessels passing through has also been rising.
Last year alone, west-bound vehicular traffic reached 2.9 million, some 167,000 more than the 2011, representing an almost seven per cent rise. This translates to an average of 8,000 vehicles crossing to the West Bank Demerara daily in 2012.
Regarding river traffic passing, some 1,219 vessels would have passed through the retractor span- a 5.8 per cent increase over 2011.
In July, the bridge was closed for three days after a temporary pontoon sank after breaking loose from the bridge, causing parts of it to collapse. The closure would have cost $15M to fix and left hundreds of commuters stranded.
With the Georgetown Ferry Stelling no longer operational, the closure had starkly highlighted the critical importance of the linkage.
In recent years, the West Demerara area has seen an explosion of new housing schemes, placing more pressure on the bridge. Several farmers were left with losses after July closure.
On a daily basis, workers of the bridge can be seen conducting maintenance.
It has been costing government millions of dollars. During last year, Government plugged $270M for capital works and according to General Manager, Rawlston Adams, the bridge will be requiring hundreds of millions more to carry out critical repairs and maintenance, including new buoys, servicing of pontoons and building of protection barriers for the retractor span.
The bridge itself has been making money, but spending as much. Last year, it made $432M …$10M more than 2011. Its total expenditure was $346M. The income increase in 2012 was almost 7.5 per cent.
According to Adams, last year there were some significant works done, including the replacement of the retractor span ramps. This was last done 15 years ago.
The current Demerara Harbour Bridge, commissioned in 1978, has long since outlasted its life expectancy.
Vehicular traffic last December broke records with 252,000 vehicles crossing.
With a projected 10,000-plus vehicles being added to the country’s roads annually, the troubles have been many for the bridge.
Bridge officials have already said that the situation will become difficult to control within five years because of the volume of traffic.